BOSTON (CBS) – Many athletes are superstitious, but it seems like baseball players are the most superstitious of that special fraternity.
Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli is just the latest example.
After starting Tuesday night’s ALCS Game 3 with a pair of strikeouts against Detroit starter Justin Verlander, Napoli found himself 0-for-6 for the series. All six of those outs were strikeouts.
Napoli, who set a Red Sox franchise record with 187 K’s in the regular season, was ready to change it up a bit.
But that change wasn’t going to come at the plate. Napoli would continue with his normal approach, ready to grind out tough at-bats until he saw his pitch.
Instead, his change came with his uniform. Napoli went with a new look, opting for a longer pair of pants, and instead of keeping the pant legs up to show off his red socks, he put them down.
One final addition to the equation was rubbing his bat on teammate Jonny Gomes’ beard.
So, Napoli went to the plate in the top of the seventh with Verlander still dealing, up to eight strikeouts on the evening. The Sox slugger fell behind 1-2, but fought back to work the count full.
Then, on Verlander’s 100th pitch of the evening, there was a breakthrough for Napoli. He put a great swing on a 96-mph fastball and got just enough of it to put it up and over the wall in left-center, accounting for the only run of the 1-0 victory for Boston, giving them a 2-1 lead in the ALCS.
He may only be 1-for-7 after that swing, but Napoli is never one short on confidence at the plate.
“I’ve been feeling comfortable; I’m not searching for anything,” he said after the win. “For me it’s about being on time.”
“Going into that at-bat, he got to me twice earlier in the game,” he said. “I kept on going at it, put a good at-bat together. I got it to 3-2 and got a good pitch I could handle.”
As for his wardrobe change, Napoli’s teammates may be following suit very soon.
“I know he changed his pants and rubbed Jonny’s beard, so maybe tomorrow night we’ll all start doing that,” joked catcher Jarrod Saltalmacchia.
“Sometimes you need to clean the slate, and he did it,” added Gomes, whose beard rivals only Napoli’s for most extravagant on the team.
Gomes added that despite his struggles at the plate this series, to him it never looks like Napoli is in a slump.
“I don’t think Napoli is ever struggling to tell you the truth. He can go 0-for-4, but at the same time he sees 35 pitches and takes an inning and a half off a starter,” explained Gomes.
Gomes, Saltalamacchia On Napoli’s Switch:
“We always have confidence in our guys,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “This is the playoffs. Everyone is throwing their best stuff. It’s good pitching. Nap, when he put that swing on it — it was pretty awesome.”
Though his struggles do show in the box score, Boston manager John Farrell said after the game he isn’t giving any thought to leaving Napoli out of the lineup at this point in the season.
“Mike is the guy we’ve leaned on in the middle of our lineup and he’s going to remain in that spot,” said Farrell.
Fittingly, Napoli hit the first home run of his career against Verlander at Comerica Park back in 2006. His blast on Tuesday was close to the same spot his first-career homer came down, though this one meant a lot more in the grand scheme of things.
The home run was the first run surrendered by Verlander the since September 18, and if had it not gone over the fence Game 3 may still be scoreless.
But thanks to his unrelenting confidence at the plate, and maybe a little thanks to a new style and the tug of a beard, Napoli gave Boston all the offense they needed with one swing of the bat on Tuesday.
Because of that, expect to see less red socks and even more beard rubbing from Boston in Game 4 on Wednesday.
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